I don’t read as much as I once did; I don’t have the time to give it the full attention it demands if I am going to learn anything. But I used to spend a lot of time in libraries, and developed the habit of choosing several books – usually three – at random. I reasoned that at least one would be good and might be great even if the other two were dogs, while if all three were terrific it would take every minute I had them out to finish them all. Anyway, it was my way of steering clear of reading only my favourite authors, discovering new ones and maybe picking up some insights I might otherwise never have glimpsed.
I picked up P.D. James’ “The Children of Men” before it attained cult status and was made into a film, and I have to say I never saw the climax coming; it is a marvelous story that will shake you. I took out and devoured Val McDermid’s “A Place of Execution“, and became an instant fan; there is a twist in that story that almost made me drop the book in shock – once again, I never saw it coming, and I doubt anyone who is a first reader of the story will, simply brilliant storytelling.
But the book I’m moved to think of now, which I also read with fascination, was a non-fiction analysis of women. Yeah, I know, none of us can figure out why they think the way they do, and there is a great deal different between us over and above our plumbing – some of the decision-making processes women use seem totally irrational to me, although obviously I have tremendous respect for women writers, and my wife’s calm pragmatism turns my teeth sideways sometimes because there is no use arguing with someone who is right. Anyway, the book was Kate Fillion’s “Lip Service: The Truth About Women’s Darker Side in Love, Sex and Friendship“.
I won’t spoil it for you by quoting extensively from it, but suffice it to say I remember it well although it has probably been 15 years since I read it. It is made up of short scenarios, some of which will make you shake your head in wonder. In one, a woman asks her friend to review a presentation she will be delivering to a board of executives at her company the following day. The woman who is asked to review it realizes it is full of errors and unsupported conclusions, but reasons – incredibly – that what her friend needs now is unconditional support. So she says it looks great to her (I’m paraphrasing). The first woman makes no changes to the presentation, delivers it the next day and is torn to shreds by her boss. Totally preventable. Would a man have done that to another man? Maybe if he was too lazy to help the other guy fix it, or hated him. Neither of those possibilities follows the same logic path.
Anyway, I thought of that scenario with the impact of epiphany when I read this piece by David Rothkopf, Editor of Foreign Policy Magazine since 2012. You might think “Vladimir Putin’s Terrific, Triumphant, All Good Totally Awesome Year” is comprised of fulsome praise, judging by the title. And there is an element of that, although it is grudging, bitter and sarcastic. But in the main it is just about as full of lies and ridiculous assumptions based on lies and tropes as Glenn Beck is full of whatever it is that turns ordinary people into crazy objects of mockery.
Like Woman B in the scenario above, David Rothkopf is blowing sunshine up the asses of his readers just when they are probably trusting him to tell them the truth. What is the effect of believing a tapestry of complete excreta instead of knowing the truth? Being ill-informed, and making bad decisions as a consequence.
Before we get started, David Rothkopf is not a stupid man. Not conventionally, anyway. He is President and CEO of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory company specializing in global political risk, energy, resource, technology and emerging markets issues, and the author of numerous internationally acclaimed books including most recently “Power, Inc.”, “Superclass” and “Running the World.” He writes a regular column for CNN and is a frequent contributor to leading newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, CNN, Newsweek, Time, and many others. Additionally, he is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, chairman of the National Strategic Investment Dialogue and serves or has recently served as a member of the advisory boards of the Center for Global Development, the Center for the Study of the Presidency, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Last but not least, he served as CEO of Intellibridge Corporation, Managing Director of Kissinger Associates and as both U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade and as Acting Under Secretary, in which capacity he directed the activities of the 2400 person International Trade Administration during the Clinton Administration. He has taught international affairs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs, the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and has lectured at leading universities including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, the National Defense University and the Naval War College. All this is, of course, from his bio.
As well, he is – as mentioned – editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, a frequent winner of the National Magazine Award. Here’s what the judges said about it in 2009;
Serious without being pompous, deep without being self-indulgent, Foreign Policy is an essential modern guide to global politics, economics, and ideas for people who want to know what’s really happening in an increasingly complicated world. Foreign Policy both simplifies and clarifies complex topics with crisp, insightful writing and clear design (emphasis mine).
For people who want to know what’s really happening, huh? All right, let’s use that as a filter. A smart guy who has a huge breadth of experience in politics, economics and foreign affairs, telling us what’s really happening.
Vladimir Putin’s country’s economy is in the tank and sinking fast, says the smart guy who knows what’s really happening and is some kind of economics genius. Is that so? I don’t see how. Russia’s GDP growth rate was a contraction for the first quarter of 2014, true. However, annual growth, while not fantastic, has been fairly steady, and GDP per capita PPP is still increasing steadily. What about the other half of the equation – debt? Russia’s declined slightly, to around $720 Billion. How is the USA doing? Debt declined slightly there, too – to around $4.5 Trillion. Whose economy is in the tank?
Unemployment in Russia decreased in March 2014 to 5.4%, from around 7% in 2007. Unemployment in the United States was unchanged in March 2014 at 6.7%, up from about where Russia’s is now in 2007. In fact, of the G7 nations (what the group likes to call itself now that it has “suspended” the only member that is not choked by debt) and among the major industrialized countries, only Germany and Japan had jobs for as high a percentage of the working-age population as they did at the end of 2007. In the fourth quarter of 2013, more than half of Americans aged 15 to 24 were unemployed, a dip of 6.5% since 2007.
Whose economy is in the tank and sinking fast? Remember, this is the guy who knows what’s really going on. He would probably tell you Russia’s economy is a slave to energy. So? The USA’s economy is a slave to debt and borrowing overreach predicated on being the owner of the world’s reserve currency, and its growth until very recently has been fueled by massive printing of dollars and equally massive purchase of its own debt. Which is the more volatile situation? Don’t wait for the smart guy to tell you – what do you think?
Whoops! Maybe he’s talking about the sanctions the USA slapped on Russia, like that traffic “boot” they used to put on your car if you parked illegally. That will have made their economy grind to a halt, surely? Actually, not so much.
Well, make them tougher, then. Oooohhh…are you sure you want to do that? I mean, there would go the $1 Billion Russian buyers have put into the American residential real estate market since 2012, or at least any more like it. But that’s peanuts. There, in all probability, would go the $500 Billion joint venture between Rosneft and Exxon Mobil, “one of the most mutually beneficial business relationships in the history of the oil industry”. There, too – although not in the same class, but a few bucks nonetheless – would go Morgan Stanley’s plans (desperate hopes, actually) to sell their oil-trading business to Rosneft. Morgan Stanley gave candidate Obama more than half a million in campaign funds back in 2008; I’m sure they would be…disappointed.
Let’s move on. Oh, look – the smart guy who knows what’s really going on says Putin’s personal fortune is “estimated in the billions”. Estimated by whom? Stanislav Belkovsky, that’s who. Stas Belkovsky, who was The Economist’s informant when they blabbed that Putin owned more than 70% of Gunvor, and then had to withdraw it in embarrassment when Gennady Timchenko – then co-owner of Gunvor – threatened to sue. Stas Belkovsky, legendary for writing tabloid fodder such as that Putin’s only friends are his pets, that he has been searching all his life for a surrogate family, that he uses body doubles to disguise periodic bouts of crippling illness and may be “latently gay”. He qualifies that to ensure he will not be sued, but also neatly dispenses with the rumour that Putin is getting it on with Alina Kabayeva – which Rothkopf is perfectly happy to pass along – as “nothing more than an invention of his PR advisors”. Stas Belkovsky, who cracked up in the summer of 2012, denounced the political opposition and offered to personally fight for Putin with his grandfather’s sidearm and a canister of napalm he keeps hidden at his dacha, if only Putin would pardon him. Excellent source, David, very reliable. Obviously it is the people who really know what’s going on who keep giving Belkovsky money so he can tell them exactly what they want to hear.
Rothkopf alleges that Snowden’s arrival in Russia – the departure from whence was neatly blocked by the USA revoking his passport – “almost certainly gave Moscow’s intelligence agencies access to the treasure trove lurking in [his] hard-drives”. He probably did not even have the computers by that time, having given everything to the reporter Glenn Greenwald, who allegedly has not himself disclosed anything like all of the “treasure trove” of damaging information in his possession. Rothkopf’s sarcastic asides divert attention from the obvious truism that the best way not to get caught spying on your own people and your allies would be to not do it.
Similarly, Rothkopf announces that Russian “spies and Special Forces” are “stirring up unrest” in Ukraine as if it were a well-established fact. OSCE observers have repeatedly said the demonstrations of unrest appear local in origin and attendance.
You may have noticed that when I am profiling a person in a post, I usually start out polite, but by the middle of the post or so I have dropped the “Mister” and am a little less respectful. The reason for that is that by the middle of their article they are usually making such dicks of themselves that I have come to consider them unworthy of respect. Rothkopf is no exception, referring to the annexation of Crimea as a “shocking, bald-faced aggression”. It was nothing of the kind. Crimeans voted in a referendum – overseen by OSCE obervers who saw nothing to complain about – to secede from Ukraine in a unilateral declaration of independence. Stick the Budapest Memorandum where the sun never shines – it has no relevance whatsoever to a unilateral declaration of independence, which international law accepts as being outside its mandate. While we are on the subject, Russia did not promise in the Budapest Memorandum to religiously observe Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but rather to not threaten or use force against it. Once again, a unilateral declaration of independence implies neither of those on Russia’s part. The signatories also pledged not to coerce Ukraine by economic means to a subordinate role. Isn’t that what the EU is doing? The UK is part of the EU, and the United States is a signatory as well. Although the Russian buy of Ukrainian debt was to have conditions mostly to protect the security of the money, Russia did not specify political reforms by Ukraine as part of the deal. Has the IMF done that? It most certainly has.
In fact, the referendum was such a game-changer as a support to a unilateral declaration of independence, and Kosovo such an obvious precedent that Obama, the Constitutional Scholar, was reduced to lying to the whole world from Brussels about Kosovo having also held a referendum prior to its declaration of independence, which never happened.
He segues smoothly into Syria, where Bashar al-Assad got away with gassing his own people to death, thanks to Putin’s intervention. What this should make you realize, if you have been following the lurching roller-coaster of current events, is that the western regime-changers think the populations they lead are stupid – moreover, they rely on it – and could not succeed if they could not manipulate the narrative from early-morning gas attacks in Damascus just as western inspectors arrived in the city, to snipers shooting protesters from rooftops in Kiev after a deal that was not quite satisfactory (since it allowed Yanukovych to remain both alive and president for a little while longer) was struck between the opposition and Yanukovych which gave the opposition everything it had asked for.
From Rothkopf’s perspective, the Russian counterattack in 2008 which kept South Ossetia and Abkhazia from being forcibly made part of Georgia was a failure, because it “sent the rest of Georgia headlong into the arms of the EU as a consequence.” Did it? Is Georgia a member of the EU? I must have missed that. And even had it done so, how would passively watching while Saakashvili seized the two recalcitrant republics and made them part of the Georgian landscape have played to Russia’s interests? Was Saakashvili not sufficiently committed to joining the EU and NATO for Rothkopf to notice? In fact, ensuring continuing border disputes was probably all that kept Georgia out of the EU.
Again, Rothkopf knows this. He’s just laying down a smokescreen for the proles.
Having run through most of the cheap shots – skipping over the one where all Russians are raving alcoholics, presumably because Foreign Policy is a class magazine – he leans on the groaner that Russia has a demographic problem that Putin’s capering and mugging for the crowd will not resolve. Does it? I’m afraid it doesn’t look that way to me. But once again, Rothkopf is playing to the gallery of the ignorant, where he knows the seeds he sows will find fertile ground.
Rothkopf’s barrow-load of deliberate falsehoods and insinuations serve to frame up a familiar construct of Russia for the rubes – aggressive, barbaric, sliding back into savagery before our very eyes as it seizes upon whatever it wants – the only thing required to ensure the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing to stop it, right? You can fool some of the people some of the time, but the number of people this sort of deliberate misdirection can fool is steadily shrinking, and what goes around comes around.
“How often, you wonder, has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings? How many opportunities have you been denied–or, for that matter, awarded–because someone failed to see you properly? How many friends have you lost, how many have you gained, because they glimpsed some element of your personality that shone through for only an instant, and in circumstances you could never reproduce? An illusion of water shimmering at the far bend of a highway.”
Kevin Brockmeier, “The View From the Seventh Layer”